I attended the launch party Microsoft threw this morning in San Francisco for Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate, which is the “final milestone,” as host Ryan Gavin (see photo) put it, before the final release to Web (RTW), coming in the near future. My colleague Julie Bort covered how IE 9 compares to Google Chrome 9 and looks at the “do not track” privacy feature among other subjects. What I went there wanting to know was whether IE9 would ease the security worries of IT managers about delivering enterprise apps to employees or others through a Web browser and whether their Web sites will go haywire trying to run in the new browser.
ComputerWeekly.com reported on RC Day Eve, Feb. 9, that Microsoft identified about 1,100 Web sites that had compatibility problems with IE9 Beta that ranged from menus and images in the wrong place on the page to script errors to IE crashing altogether. The sites affected include some household names, including You Tube, UPS, E*Trade, Citibank and British Airways.
Roger Capriotti, director of product marketing for IE responded to the article by saying that any problems can be easily addressed in IE9 by activating compatibility mode, so that in an IE 9 browser, a site will be rendered as if it were IE 8 or IE 7, whichever one for which the site is optimized. Microsoft provided backwards compatibility to IE7 when it released IE8 in 2009 and the list of problem sites fell from around 1,000 to fewer than 100 and Capriotti expects the same to be true this time.
“We were introducing new features in IE 8 and we wanted to make sure we gave the Web some time to pick up some of those things. We’ve done the same thing in IE9,” Capriotti said. “My indication is that that [1,100] number will shrink dramatically as we get to IE9 RTW.“
He added that as Web site developers update their sites, any compatibility issues will also likely be resolved. It also occurs to me that some compatibility glitches may be so minor as to be unnoticed by the user. And rendering a site as though the browser was IE8 or 7 does not deprive the user of the new features of IE9, Capriotti added, such as geo-location, hardware acceleration, support of HTML 5 and “site pinning,” in which a favorite site, or group of related sites, can be easily accessed by clicking on an icon representing the site in the lower task bar.
Enterprise customers contemplating delivery of applications from the cloud through the browser have been wary of the security risks associated with that, particularly malware. That problem is being addressed, said Gavin, director of Internet Explorer for Microsoft, at the launch event. IE9 Beta, when it was released in Septeber 2010, included a smart screen filter to determine the reputation of a site about to be opened in the browser and that filter has been extended in RC to the download manager and to also assessing the reputation of Web applications.
“IE9 blocks 99 percent of all malware. That is orders of magnitude above any other browser in the industry right now,” Gavin said.
Nonetheless, enterprises are unlikely to take that for granted and many will probably still require access for employees to a Web app through a virtual private network just as they always have. Let me know if IE9 will make your enterprise more likely to deliver corporate apps through a browser.
Robert Mullins is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. He has been writing about technology from Silicon Valley for more than a decade. He has covered such beats as network security, servers, storage, software development, telecommunications and, of course, Microsoft, for a variety of publications, most notably the IDG News Service and Network World.